The House of Representatives has moved to increase to a total of P8 billion the funding for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines next year.
Upon instructions from Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, the small committee, in charge of institutional amendments to the proposed P4.5 trillion 2021 national budget, approved a budget increase of P5.5 billion for the Department of Health (DoH).
“This is to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s program to strengthen the country’s health care system. We believe that vaccine plays a very crucial role in keeping the population safe and healthy from the pandemic," said Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, chairman of the House committee on rules.
The total fund of P8 billion also includes the P2.5 billion funding under the proposed budget of the DOH.
Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, a member of the small committee, said they agreed to consider only institutional amendments and departmental errata and accommodate individual amendments during the bicameral conference committee.
The soft copy of the third reading version of the 2021 national budget containing the P20 billion institutional amendments made by the small committee as disclosed by Salceda will be transmitted to the Senate on Oct. 28.
On Monday, Salceda said the P5.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine fund is part of the P20 billion institutional amendments of the House of Representatives under the 2021 national budget.
Other members of the small committee under Romualdez are Salceda, House appropriations chairman and Reps. Eric Yap of ACT-CIS, Jack Duavit of Rizal, Jose Enrique Garcia of Bataan Eileen Ermita-Buhain of Batangas, House Deputy Majority Leader Bernadette Herrera of Bagong Henerasyon, Rep. Sharon Garin of AAMBIS-OWA, senior Deputy Speaker and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, House Deputy Majority Leader Xavier Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin, Reps. Luisa Lloren Cuaresma of Nueva Vizcaya, Edgar Marie Sarmiento, Stella Luz Quimbo of Marikina City and Edcel Lagman of Albay.
Senators had questioned the constitutionality of introducing amendments after the budget has been passed on third and final reading by the House, but Senator Panfilo Lacson said Tuesday he will support the P20 billion in institutional amendments.
“I will definitely support [it] and might even further augment the proposed amendments for the COVID-19 vaccines and the aid to displaced workers,” he said, regardless of the “constitutional infirmities involved.”
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he will presume regularity in the institutional amendments.
“As they submit to us, we will of course presume regularity,” he said.
He said these amendments that were made after the third reading in the House were acceptable if the congressmen agreed to do this before they voted in the plenary.
"If they manifested to do that before they approved on third reading, subject to style, then it's possible. It means they approved it in principle," Sotto added.
Senate finance committee chairman Senator Juan Edgardo Angara also said he presumed regularity.
“We know that House leaders know the procedures outlined in the Constitution and will comply with such,” he added.
The amendments include additional P5.5 billion for COVID-19 vaccines; P4 billion for the Department of Labor and Employment to aid displaced workers; P1.7 billion for the Department of Education to provide the internet needs for online classes; P2 billion for the Department of the Interior and Local Government for mobility assets of the police; and P2 billion for pandemic assistance to affected families, among others.
The Palace, meanwhile, acknowledged that storage and distribution of a vaccine for COVID-19 would be a challenge.
The potential coronavirus vaccine should be kept in a cold storage facility, where they would be frozen at around -90 degrees Celsius, said presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
The Philippines has only one such facility at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine in Muntinlupa, he added.
“The challenge will be great when the vaccine comes out. The President has said we should prepare the details, not just the funds,” Roque said in Filipino in an interview on ABS-CBN Teleradyo.
“The challenge now really is the storage and logistics of sending the drug here and the distribution network,” he said.
A Department of Health (DOH) official on Tuesday cited the importance of vaccines as the best form of protection against diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We cannot understate the value of vaccines,” said DOH National Immunization Campaign Program Manager Dr. Wilda Silva, who emphasized the role of vaccination in protecting children’s lives.
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